Two of my favorite schoolteachers, grandson Nicholas Wansley and Mandy Bragg, were married last week. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony. I pray their marriage will be as happy as they, their families and friends were on that special day.
According to my friend, the Rev. Jim Collins, it is possible but won’t be easy. A good marriage never is. He should know. Collins is the retired senior pastor at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta and in the past 50 years has conducted 2,294 weddings — and counting.
Collins recently published a book, “Always a Wedding — Beginning, Renewing and Rescuing Marriage,” a how-to manual on everything from planning a wedding to making sure it lasts. In my not-so-humble opinion, it should be required reading for newlyweds and anyone whose marriage could use a little nudge — which is most of us.
As for all the ceremonies he has performed, Jim Collins says, “Nothing surprises me. I’ve seen everything.”
In one wedding, he had four people faint. (Hint: Don’t party too much the night before and don’t lock your knees during the ceremony. It cuts off the circulation.) Fortunately, no one keeled over at the Wansley wedding.
In another case, the groom was a large UGA lineman. Fifteen minutes before the wedding, the best man, another huge football player, informed Collins his tuxedo had not arrived and asked if he could stand with the groom in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Finding out that the young man was a deacon in his church back home, Collins instructed him to put on a large black robe he had retrieved from his office.
“I will call on you to give a short prayer,” he said. “Then everyone will understand why you were the only groomsman in a robe.”
The wedding went off without a hitch and no one was the wiser, except a few attendees who noticed the flip-flops under the “deacon’s” robe.
Turning serious, Collins said a Pew Research Center Poll in 2010 showed that many young people today don’t know how to be married because they have no role models. Many are products of divorced homes and there is not much in our current culture that values marriage between a man and woman. People live together, he says, to avoid commitment because commitment means responsibility and concern for the other person.
“We are a ‘me’ generation,” he said, “and marriage is about the other person.”
How can two people make a marriage work? Jim Collins said that in counseling with couples, he encourages them to adhere to four goals of marriage: Stay physically fit, mentally alive, financially secure and spiritually strong.
“I have them write action steps under each of these goals,” he said. “I tell them I will hold them accountable because they have given both God and me their word.”
He also counsels couples on how to “fight fair” when the inevitable disputes arise. Collins has a very specific set of rules for resolving arguments. Among them: No silent treatment. Never speak offensive words. Don’t criticize your mate in front of others. Don’t bring up a past dispute during a current disagreement. Don’t talk at the same time or interrupt. Don’t raise your voice and do discuss your issue before the sun goes down.
They even sign a contract declaring they will adhere to these rules. The longtime minister said many couples say the “Fighting Fair” contract saved their marriage. Some even have the document framed and hanging on a wall.
So, why even get married? Collins said there are ample data proving that a child is healthier in life and school with a mother and father in a home.
“This is not an opinion,” he said. “These are hard facts. Children of single parents perform less well in society than do children from a stable home environment. Eighty-three percent of those in prison said with a secure home and parents, they would not be there.”
Collins said that after 50 years he has learned that “marriage is worth all the sacrifices, compromises, adjustments and patience required in having your best friend love, honor, cherish, comfort and protect you for as long as you live.”
As a result of our conversation, I am giving Nicholas and Mandy a copy of Collins’ book and have gotten one for myself.
You might want one, too. Send him an email at email@example.com. The marriage you save just might be your own.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga., 31139.